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Communication is Not a Luxury

Posted Jun 28, 2021 - 12:21pm

By Lance McLemore, PRC-Saltillo Blogger

Here comes another installment of “What Grinds My Gears” from your friendly neighborhood grouch. It certainly seems like all of my posts are the rantings of a grouchy constipated octogenarian, but I think there’s a place for such things. I would like to talk about something which I think I’ve touched on before, but I don’t remember going into it in great depth. Over the years, I’ve met many people through my job as a PRC ambassador: teachers, parents, SLP’s, OT’s, paraprofessionals, BCBA’s, other AAC users, etc. I have noticed a persistent pervasive attitude that I want to bring to light that bothers me greatly.

I have noticed in many people the tendency to regard communication as a luxury. It seems quite bizarre to me, because it’s patently obvious that communication is not a luxury. People don’t stop to think about the extent to which their quality of life is contingent upon their ability to communicate. Can you have a job without being able to communicate? Could you graduate university without communication? Could you have a relationship or get married without having a way to communicate? Could you live independently without having a way to communicate? The answer to all these questions is an emphatic no! Despite this, it seems to be a Herculean effort to get people to take it seriously. Most people are never questioned about their need for eyeglasses, but their need for AAC is often questioned. And it’s easier for them to get eyeglasses than an AAC device. Perhaps seeing is considered more important than communicating. Actions speak louder than words.

So many times, AAC devices are kept in backpacks or on shelves collecting dust. I think it can usually be attributed to laziness or low expectations. Even the most fluent AAC user is going to be noticeably slower than a speaking person. AAC is seen as an inconvenience for the communication partner. Most people would rather not bother with it. Non-speaking people need to communicate just as much as anyone else and for the same reasons. I find it grotesquely ironic that people like me, people on the autism spectrum, are believed to have a lack of empathy even though many neurotypical people seem to be incapable of understanding the pain and frustration that a non-speaking person feels. Where is all this empathy that neurotypical people supposedly have, and that people like me supposedly don’t have?

I think one reason that it’s difficult to get people to take AAC seriously is because a lack of speech is seen as a behavior problem or laziness. I’m mostly talking about those of us on the autism spectrum, although I’m sure people with other disabilities affecting their speech have to deal with the same attitudes. It hasn’t been understood all that long that non-speaking autistic individuals almost certainly have verbal apraxia. However, there’s still this persistent attitude that we just choose not to talk. I don’t think that most people would choose to make their lives more difficult.

It's not easy to live with a body and a voice that doesn’t work as we wish. Communication is a challenge, and we work hard to overcome it. If we could just say it, then we would. We use AAC because it’s the clearest fastest way to say what we want, although I’m sure that from most people’s perspective our speech rate is glacial. We have worked hard to master our communication systems so that we can reach out to you. The last thing we need is to have our communication rejected, questioned, or taken away.

If communication is so trivial, then I challenge anyone who has such an absurd belief to try going a week without communicating. If you can do that and then tell me with a straight face that it was easy, then maybe I’ll take you seriously. Alternatively, you can do it as a thought experiment. Think about all the human interactions you have on a daily basis and how most of them would be difficult or impossible without a way to communicate. We need AAC so that we can have all those human interactions that you probably take for granted.

Communicators In Action  -    communication, language, ADA, human rights, AAC, disability